In this article, I address a couple of questions that I've gotten on my Instagram [LINK]
Q: What is the best diet for GAA Players? Paleo? “If it fits your macros”? Vegetarian? Intermittent fasting? Carb-backloading?
A: Firstly, when considering any nutritional change or approach, the first thing we need to consider your individual goals. This means defining what you want to happen as a result of this change in nutrition;
Do you want to lose bodyfat?
Do you want to fuel your perforamance?
Do you want to gain muscle?
Do you want to feel more energetic?
When you have established your goals, the next thing to do is consider what the principles to achieving that goal are. For example, the overarching principle of weight-loss is to eat in a caloric deficit (Eat fewer calories than your expend). Further to that, we know that adjusting our macronutrient intake will be important if fuelling performance and maintaining muscle are also part of the goal. With this in mind, we can start to look at various approaches, and ask if they will suit our goals.
For example, if we look at a vegetarian diet. The likelihood is that switching to eating a vegetarian diet will mean you have a smaller amount of foods to choose from. Because of this, you may end up eating less in general, and therefore losing weight. However, you may struggle to get enough protein in to meet your goals, so whilst you may lose weight, you may not be optimising your muscle maintenance or growth.
If we look at an “If it fits your macros” approach, which basically means you follow a set macronutrient intake, and as long as you hit those macro targets, where they come from is pretty much irrelevant, again, assuming the macro recommendations are suitable to your needs, following this approach will likely lead to weight-loss. However, some people find this method quite hard to stick to, since they have to track their food everyday. Not to mention, if taken to the extreme, and the macros are met without any though for micronutrients, it may not be optimal for general health.
So is there really a perfect diet then? Well, in my opinion, the perfect diet is one that makes it easy for you to stick to the principles associated with your goals.
So in summary, outline your goals, identify the principles associated with those goals, and find the easiest dietary set-up that will allow you to follow those principles.
Q: Should I take creatine as a GAA Player?
A: To give some context to this answer, before considering any supplement, it is important to remember that unless you have the other 3 building blocks of nutrition (Find out more here) in place, you will get more benefit from focussing on them before looking at supplements.
However, if you have your nutrition in place otherwise, creatine is definitely worth considering.
Creatine is the most researched sports supplements, and contrary to what has been said in the media, creatine has not been associated with negative side effects, in people with healthy kidneys.
However, it has been shown to have a range of benefits to sporting performance, that make sense for GAA athletes.
Creatine is naturally found in the body, and is also contained within foods, such as meat and fish. Within the body, it is involved with energy production (or more specifically, ATP production) in short (usually less than 10 seconds), intense movements, such as sprinting, weight lifting, jumping, pushing a man back in the tackle etc.
We have stores of creatine within the body, that are there to be used as needed in these high-intensity activities. In order to reach optimal amount of these creatine stores in the body, most people need to supplement, as it can be difficult to get enough from food.
The general recommendation is about 5g of creatine monohydrate per day. No loading period is required, however, an initial loading period may help to reach the optimal level of creatine stores more quickly than the standard recommendation.
Q: Should GAA players do intermittent fasting?
A: As a bit of background, intermittent fasting is a nutrition protocol where the eating period is restricted to a shorter period, compared to the usual eating period of wake-time to bed-time. This generally translates to skipping breakfast, and only eating 2–3 meals, between afternoon and night-time.
Proponents of this protocol usually talk about it’s ability to increase fat-burning, due to the increased fasting period. i.e. “When your body isn’t supplied with food, it turns to the fat stores.”
Whilst this make sense logically, when calories are equated for, intermittent fasting has not been shown to decrease bodyfat any more than a regular eating schedule.
However, in some cases, when the eating period is restricted, people tend to eat fewer calories overall, and this will lead to a decrease in bodyfat.
It goes back to the first question in the article. If your goals are fat-loss, calories are key, and if intermittent fasting allows you to maintain a caloric deficit, in a way that’s suitable to your lifestyle, then it could be a good option.
On the other hand, as GAA players, the likelihood is that this won’t conform with the training schedule, and for some people, it actually may be hard to get enough calories in in that short eating period, especially with a high training load.
Another smaller thing to consider is the contribution of eating protein on muscle protein synthesis (MPS). MPS is essentially the body building muscle in response to a protein feeding. The optimal amount of times to create this response is about 3–5 times per day. This doesn’t contribute massively to overall muscle building, but if you concerned with optimisation, it is a factor worth considering.
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